Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Honors Thesis Student Merryn McKeough Explores Video Games in her piece "Play Meter"

Photo by Lori Teague

By Raven Crosby, Office Assistant 

Merryn McKeough is taking an excerpt of her honors thesis in dance and movement studies to the American College Dance Association Southeast Conference at Florida State University. This is McKeough’s first time attending the festival and she is excited to take a variety of classes, try new techniques and improvisational scores, and present her work for the first time to a larger audience. Her piece draws on the movement vocabulary and culture of video games. She is examining themes of motivation, competition, fun, and relationships with technology and media. “I’m especially interested in how investment in projected versions of the self can foster experiences that are fun and enjoyable because of the experiences themselves, regardless of outcome.”

During rehearsals, McKeough is exploring the piece’s themes through set choreography, improvisation, group discussion, and movement generation. “Many of the movement generation activities I do in rehearsal are based in game structures.” Collaboration and having fun are two important concepts to set the overall tone of her piece. She often asks her cast to experiment with her in a loosely defined movement idea to establish choreography. To set a work that looks at how people find and experience fun, she believes that her cast must essentially find joy in the movement they are performing.
Photo by Lori Teague
The music and costuming are currently a work is progress. Until her music is set, McKeough choreographs either in silence, to music that aligns with the tone of the movement, or to her current favorite songs playing faintly in the background. As for costuming, McKeough is excited to integrate this element into her piece. “I love imagining the dancers in costume and finding fun ways for clothing to contribute to the experience of the piece, so I start thinking about costuming fairly early.”

Monday, October 25, 2021

Xan Burley and Alex Springer: make. destroy.

Raven Crosby, Office Assistant 

make. destroy. is the new piece that Donna and Marvin Schwartz Artists-in-Residence Xan Burley and Alex Springer set on the Emory Dance Company. This piece examines a long-form destruction as the genesis of movements both collective and individual. “From climate catastrophe to evolving pandemics, we continue to confront disaster in our radically changing world. What emerges from crumbling structures?”

Burley and Springer’s choreographic process is extremely collaborative and generated through both movement inquiry and deep group dialogue. “The dancers in our cast were vital contributors to the work’s gestation - their movement choices, thoughtful discoveries, and responses to our questions are the foundation that this work was built upon.” The piece itself is a structured work but contains improvised elements. “The majority of make. destroy. is improvised movement material that arises out of devised and meticulously developed scores, prompts, and events. The structure of the piece is very precise, as is the movement vocabulary, but the dancers are making different decisions each time they inhabit the work. Their power of choice influences what unfolds on the stage every night.” 

The inspirations that the duo have drawn from include Jeanine Durning, Chris Aiken, and Angie Hauser, as well as the dancers themselves. Their music choices range from sound scores from Anna Meredith’s driving 80’s pop-esque ballads to more experimental soundscapes by Langham Research Institute. “Playing with different music has been an exciting way to generate new scenarios and auralities for the dancers to work with and against. Together, the music and the dance form a relationship that thrives in difference and alignment.”

Since this is the first piece that Burley and Springer have created since the start of the pandemic, the duo wanted to create a work that centered on the liveness and embodiment of dance performance for the stage. “This piece would not be possible without the generosity, support, and creative prowess that each dancer manifests. And, as much as we and the dancers co-create make. destroy., the presence of a witnessing audience further choreographs the work.”

Friday, October 22, 2021

Lori Teague: Emory Dance Company Choreographer Fall 2021

Raven Crosby, Office Assistant 

Personal connections, discomfort, division, and harmony are elements that Lori Teague is exploring in her piece for the Emory Dance Company this fall. Teague is looking to explore a set of questions that relate to discomfort felt in bodies. “I continue to ask myself, 'how do I live in my body?' and 'how do I, or we, survive a moment?'” Teague states that these questions have personal answers and are serving as overarching questions for her cast to explore. “I am facilitating ways that we will create important connections to each other, and to the planet in the work.”

Teague’s choreographic process begins with developing a movement vocabulary with the cast in tandem with the themes that she is exploring. Working with her cast while following safety protocols due to the pandemic has shifted Teague’s choreographic ideas to be communicated in other creative ways. After a brief conversation early in the movement process about touch within the piece, Teague is letting the dancers make the decisions themselves and with their peers about how to explore movements. “I respect the boundaries and fears we all have right now.”

For this piece, technical elements are important in setting the tone. Teague is using the music that she selects to create an emotional, qualitative environment for the work. “This time I am exploring a score that is in contrast to the movement at times. How do we coexist with our environment right now? How do we engage within it? This reflects the challenges we are experiencing, but also the recuperative spaces in nature that allow us to rebound.” She is also collaborating with Greg Catellier, who is the lighting designer for the Emory Dance Program, to create a visual representation of space that communicates division and harmony.

Teague hopes her piece will communicate “the idea that we survive many moments because of our connections to each other. I am using the compositional device of cannon to communicate this empathy. Movement echoes from one body to another.”

Angela Harris: Emory Dance Company Choreographer Fall 2021

Raven Crosby, Office Assistant 

Emory Dance ballet instructor Angela Harris is creating a new work for the Emory Dance Company, which will be the first ballet piece that the Emory Dance Company has presented since 2015. Her neo-classical ballet features a strong cast of 16 dancers who are skilled in ballet movement. Working with such a large cast may appear physically difficult; however, Harris is working with her cast in small groups and teaching each different sections and variations.

Harris begins her choreographic process by selecting music before creating movement. “I am heavily influenced by musical choices. I usually start by listening to a lot of music and find the selections that move me. I also consider the style, feel, and intent of the piece I want to create, and start with finding a musical score that will be a match for the concept in my mind.” For this piece, she wants the dancers to be “moved” by the music and capture the spirit of the piano and the intricacies of the instrumentation. She decided on this concept after her first rehearsal where she noticed that the dancers fully embodied her music choices. “When I re-watched [a recording of] the piece and turned off the music, I could still hear the music through the dancers' movement. It was lovely. So, I decided to focus on embodying the music in this ballet.” 

When asked what the audience can expect to see, Harris stated, “I usually like to hear audiences' reaction before I tell them what I want them to feel or see. For this piece, there isn't really a deeper story. It's movement and music, and sometimes music and movement make us feel many different things.” With the diversity of dance genres presented in the Emory Dance Concert this fall, Harris feels that her ballet piece will fit right in. “I think diversity in dance styles always makes for an exciting performance. I don't think my piece will be out of place. On the contrary, I think that the performance will show the wide array of artists that make up the Emory Dance Company and Emory Dance faculty. It will be an exciting show!”

Julio Medina: Emory Dance Company Choreographer Fall 2021

Raven Crosby, Office Assistant 

Get ready to move in your seats and want to get up and dance during Julio Medina’s piece for the Emory Dance Company! Medina is choreographing a House dance that will showcase the infectious energy of this style and its music. For those who may be unfamiliar with House, a brief explanation from Medina along with a video of some of the movements is below.

“House is a dance that emerged from underground dance clubs in NYC and Chicago in the late 70s and 80s, primarily in African American/LGBTQ communities. Detroit also has a major influence on the music; House is the direct inheritor of disco music. The dance itself incorporates a lot of footwork from other dances (tap, jazz, salsa, breaking, hip-hop, ballet, to name a few), but at its core House is a dance that promotes self-expression, so essentially you can approach the dance in many ways.”

Medina has always wanted to set a house dance on students, and this will be the first time presenting house on the Emory Dance stage. His inspiration for this piece came from the footwork and energy of the music, which is an important component of house dance. “The relationship between the music and the dance is a call and response system, very similar to other street dances of the African diaspora. The music suggests movement, and the movement amplifies elements of the music.” Much of house dance is cyclical and features repetition which Medina feels makes this the perfect time for a house piece. “The current moment, or the world, feels extremely complex and uncertain right now. The repetitive beats of house are very comforting, and dancing for fun rather than abstract or intellectual investigation feels necessary right now.”

Bringing a street dance style to the concert stage has its challenges since house dance features a strong relationship between participants and observers, says Medina. He also feels that the ‘cypher’ and improvisational nature of the dance is difficult to present since the choreography is set for the stage. However, the high energy and expression of self in community will still be present in the piece. 

Creating a close-knit community among the dancers has not served as a challenge despite the nature of the pandemic. This is Medina’s second piece for the Emory Dance Company during the pandemic, so he is accustomed to the necessary safety protocols. During rehearsals the dancers keep their distance and movements with touch are not incorporated in the work, partly because of safety, but also because touch is not a common element in house dance. However, there is still a lot of collaboration among the cast and Medina to create movement. “I’m letting myself create in the moment, responding to the music in real time, and asking the dancers for input when I’m stuck. I’m sharing a lot of my house vernacular with them so they can take it and make it their own.”

Student Profile: Olivia Browne on "My First and Greatest Love"

By Raven Crosby, Office Assistant

In September 2021, Raven Crosby, Dance Program Office Assistant, held an interview with dance major Olivia Browne, a third-year student from Dallas, Texas. Read about her experience in the Emory Dance Program and passion for dance below.

What led you to pursue dance at the collegiate level? What led you to join the Emory Dance Program? Was there a specific experience or event?

Browne: Dance for me has always been the primary driver in how I see my life playing out, both defining and exciting me. I have always thought dance was worthy of high intellectual study and consideration and I feel like Emory Dance does a great job of truly investigating dance as a cultural and physical phenomenon.

What do you enjoy the most about being a part of the Emory Dance Program? 

Browne: I have always loved performing and being given the opportunity to perform and choreograph last semester was a highlight of my Emory Dance experience. I also love how the dance program at Emory does not foster this toxic and competitive environment that many other dance spaces partake in.

Why do you dance?

Browne: I dance because dance embodies so many things necessary for life, the rituals and practices, the expression and communication, the play and challenge. I used to worry about the realities of no longer being able to dance and I now know that dance will never leave me. Dance will always be my first and greatest love.

Which courses have had the greatest impact on your development as a dance artist? What did you discover about yourself in these courses?

Browne: Last semester, I took Ballet IV with Mara (Mandradjieff) and I had the epiphany that I no longer needed to use ballet as a tool for shame or punishment and that I could just revel in the beauty and joy of the movement. It really unlocked this burden that I had been carrying all throughout my training. I also grew a lot as a choreographer in Choreography II last semester with George (Staib), pushing through the challenges and insecurities of making work to have a truly rewarding process and product.

Is there any advice that you would you give to a prospective student? An undeclared first-year student?

Browne: Take movement improvisation! Moving your body outside of codified notions of dance is so much fun and taps into the essence of dance. Also, go see as many dance shows as possible.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Community Connection: Julie Baggenstoss and Her Impact on Flamenco in Atlanta

By Raven Crosby, Office Assistant 

Julie Baggenstoss is an arts educator and performer of 20 years who teaches flamenco for the Emory Dance Program. She also has her own production company, Berdolé; a non-profit, A Través; and recently has taken on the role of arts administrator. She has connected with the Atlanta community for ten years now through flamenco classes and performances, and shares some of her experiences below.

Origins of Flamenco in Atlanta


As a flamenco teacher, I changed the way that I instruct students about ten years ago, when I launched a cuadro class in Atlanta. Back then, we were a community of dancers who wanted to work with live musicians, but there weren't any in Atlanta who understood how to play or sing flamenco music. So, I started bringing in guest teachers who could instruct in guitar and singing, while I could still teach dance and explain to the groups of students how it all worked together. At its core, flamenco is an improvised art form, and rather than learning to recite pieces of music and choreographies, we truly want to learn the rules and stockpile vocabulary and phrasing that can be exchanged in a conversation between the musicians and the dancers. I knew in 2009 that it would take ten years to cultivate a musician base in Atlanta, as well as dancers who could work in that base. I am so happy to report that we have that base here now. While I no longer teach the cuadro class, I give private lessons focused on this element of flamenco. It is very exciting to watch students become practitioners of flamenco arts as they learn the rules of the road. Dancers have to become musicians, and musicians have to play and sing like they are dancing.

Company and Performance Events: Berdolé & Través


Berdolé was created when I started to go on tour more as an artist and at the same time, I started to manage artists who were performing in and beyond metro Atlanta. Through this company, I have been able to take my arts integration practice throughout the Southeast. I have also staffed performances from New Orleans to New York and created a U.S. tour for an important Spanish artist whose methodology I support immensely. Most importantly, prior to the pandemic, this company produced six years of sold-out performances throughout Georgia and permitted Spanish artists and local artists to perform together. This rare opportunity allows local artists to have the experience that they might gain by moving to and working in Spain. It permits our audiences to see a high level of flamenco on the stage, so that we all rise up in the joy of this art form. Concerts are scheduled to begin again in 2022. 


A Través established two large-scale annual events: The Atlanta Flamenco Festival and La Feria Atlanta. The multi-week festival presents world-class flamenco artists in two kinds of concerts. One showcases innovation and contemporary flamenco, which pushes the art form forward, and the other showcases traditional powerhouses that remind us of where flamenco is rooted and why the art form touches us emotionally. La Feria Atlanta is a small-scale recreation of La feria de Abril, which happens in Seville (Spain) annually, as a celebration of spring. This event is community-driven, and creates a social context for flamenco, which is something that we don't have in Atlanta. 


Teaching Flamenco to the Atlanta Community


The artists of A Través go into the community to teach adults and children about flamenco music, rhythm, dance, singing, and lifestyle. We have offered after-school classes for elementary, middle, and high school students, and the artists who visit Atlanta to work in our events teach in this after-school program. We use flamenco as a vehicle to teach curriculum standards of grades K-12 in public and private schools. At times, artists set choreography for major performances, and at other times, they inject important and special music and dance elements into our studies so that young dancers can perform flamenco in community events. This outreach always results in unexpected exchanges that offer new perspectives to the students, as well as the artists. The same thing happens when local flamenco artists work with the visiting artists in performances. This has become a special part of my work that I cherish. The curiosity of the students showcases an understanding of the world around us a little better, so that we may see ourselves more clearly in the end.